This is a super sensitive issue all over the world. The negative treatment of women in some countries is highly publicized, and often portrayed as being the fault of Islam. This is the same as suicide bombers using Islam to promote and justify their violent acts, when in truth, most of what is happening around the world is political, not religious. Injustices such as forced marriages, women being denied access to knowledge or refused access to mobility, and keeping women out of public office are not doctrine from Islam. Not only do the media portray all of these things as being “Islamic,” but also the countries that claim to be run by Islamic laws truly are guilty of these things. So it is hard for anyone to gain an understanding of what Islam and Islamic law really is about.
About 1400 years ago, Islam sanctioned for women the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to hold positions of power, and the right to divorce. Women have the right to run their own businesses. Within a marriage, whatever wealth a wife accumulates, it is hers and hers alone, while a husband carries the responsibility of meeting all of her needs (food, clothing and shelter). The wearing of the head covering or veil stems from two Qur’anic verses regarding modesty, which not only applies to women but also to men, encouraging modesty in appearance, but also in behavior, manner, and speech. Here are the exact quotes:
“O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better, in order that they may be understood (to be Muslims) and not annoyed…” (33:59)
“….And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to…” (24:31) (and it goes on to explain that you don’t have to cover yourself in front of family members or young children before they hit puberty). Interestingly, the passage before this one (which is oft-less quoted) says the following: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.” (24:30)
In my opinion, these passages are up for interpretation. Some Muslim women who choose to cover their heads have stated that they feel it allows them to be recognized as Muslims (like a Christian wearing a cross necklace to identify themselves as a Christian). Some say they feel more liberated because men are more respectful to them, as they do not have the opportunity to be viewed as sex objects. They feel they are being seen for their minds, instead of their bodies. There are a lot of different opinions on this matter. I personally think people make too big of a deal over it. All women should have the right to choose for themselves what they want to do and how they want to dress, whether it is based on a religious decision, cultural decision, or just their own personal preferences.